Have you stopped to consider the kinds of common mistakes you’re making? After you’ve set up your forge and figured out how to get started, it’s easy to think you can just get started heating up some metal and start blacksmithing. For the most part, that’s true. If you’ve got everything you need in terms of safety equipment, basic tools, and a basic forge, there’s not much reason why you shouldn’t start practicing right now.
However, there are a few things that you should keep in mind if you’re starting out, especially if you’re a beginner. After consulting some experts that I know as well as taking into consideration my personal experience, beginner blacksmiths seem to make a number of common mistakes that can easily be avoided when starting out.
So here they are, 11 of the most common mistakes beginner blacksmiths make and how to avoid them.
1. Heat Your Metal up Properly
I know, you want to get started smithing immediately. However, what a lot of beginner blacksmiths do is that in their eagerness to start hammering away, they don’t bother to heat their metal sufficiently. Instead, they pull out their stock to soon, and low and behold, the metal isn’t malleable enough for you to do much with it besides leaving a hammer print on the metal.
Instead, take your time to be sure the metal is heated up sufficiently. Instead of taking it out of the forge when it’s a deep red, try to leave it in until its at least a shade of dark orange. Once metals get hot enough that they take on a shade of orange, they’re soft enough that you can do whatever you want for the most part.
Even worse, a metal that isn’t heated properly could even break if you use too much force. What happens often is that beginner blacksmiths, overly eager to get started, don’t wait long enough. As such, the metal they’re using isn’t soft enough, so they need to use more force.
Your metal broke.
Instead, make sure you heat whatever you’re working with sufficiently. Although certain metals heat up at different rates (such as different types of rebar), for the most part, you should be monitoring the color of your metal rather than looking at how long its been in the forge.
2. Watch your Fire
While it’s important to make sure your metal is sufficiently heated, you also need to be careful that your fire doesn’t cool down while you’re waiting. This might seem obvious at first, but if you’re too focused on hammering away at your metal or waiting for something else, you’d be surprised at how quickly your fire will go out on you.
Now, you’re going to have to wait a while before it will heat up again, something that will waste some more of your time and just slow down your overall progress. A number of fellow smiths told me that while they were working on a major project, focusing on hammering away, they ended up forgetting to tend their fire’s as well as they should have. In the end, they had to completely restart their forges, frustratingly wasting hours of their time.
3. Keep Your Ash Trap Clean
When I first started blacksmithing, one thing that always bothered me was the sparks. Even with safety equipment, goggles, gloves, apron, etc., it took me a long time before I stopped flinching and reacting to every little spark. What I realized made my sparking issue a lot better was when I started cleaning my ash trap more frequently.
No matter what you do, you’re going to have sparks. However, an ash trap that’s clogged and stuffed will send sparks all over the place. You don’t want that. Keep your ash trap clean.
4. Be sure to Quench Slowly
A common theme you might have noticed so far in this article is to take your time and be patient. This is true when heating up your metal and making sure your fire is hot, but it’s also true when it comes to quenching your metal. Don’t rush it. This isn’t just a safety issue but it’s also a big deal for whatever you’re forging.
If you think back to your high school science class, you’ll remember that the hotter something gets, the more rapidly an object’s molecules move. This also means that an object expands, as the more these molecules move the more space they end up occupying due to their constant bumping around.
Nor think about it this way. What happens when you put a glass cup into a bowl of ice-cold water? It’ll shatter. In the same way, metal can break apart. Cooling an object that’s super hot suddenly in cold water could very easily weaken the metal and make it brittle, if not outright break.
While it’s true that experts are able to heat and cool metal in order to strengthen it, this type of technique isn’t something that beginners are able to pull off. Overall, take a moment to wait for your metal to cool a little before quenching it.
5. Maintain a Rhythm
The secret to consistent success and achieving a good output as a blacksmith is to maintain a rhythm. At the same time, however, hammering away mindlessly won’t get you nearly the same results as being systematic and strategic with your strikes. Being able to consistently strike a well-heated metal at the perfect time will yield you much more of an impact than just hammering away with all your might.
6. Watch out for Flaky Fire Scales!
When I first tried blacksmithing in my home, something that really surprised me was this flaky, black coating that forms on a hot metal as its temperature shifts. I didn’t know much about it when I started, but its essentially a type of oxidation in response to heat. What you want to do is make sure you brush it off your metal as you don’t want it to jump onto you while you’re hammering away.
At the same time, you don’t want to leave it on your finished piece of metal, as it can hurt the surface and make your finished product coarse and rough. If you don’t brush your pieces well before you finish, you’ll find that they end up looking quite mediocre because of these hot flakes.
You also need to make sure you’re safely covered with the appropriate gear when smithing. If one of these flakes hits jumps and hits your skin while you’re cleaning your metal, it will easily burn and stick to your skin! As you can image, this is really painful, and when you take the flake off, you’ll be bleeding if not scarred from it.
7. Keep Your Tools Nearby
It might not be the most revolutionary idea but keep everything you need close at hand. You don’t’ want to be wasting time trying to find where you placed one tool while your fire and metal are cooling down. Find a nice spot where you keep all your tools and stick to it. Make it a habitual thing where you know every tool you need is right there. And when you’re done, put it back in its place. This might seem really obvious to some, but its a more common mistake than most people would imagine.
That also goes for other things as well that you might not initially consider to be strictly a “tool.” Shovels, for instance, are pretty important, not just for shoveling fuel into a fire but also in case something else happens. What if a spark or a hot coal jumps out of your fire and lands on some paper or some leaves in your back yard? You can have a fire on your hands pretty quickly, and you’ll need to put it out with something – whether that’s water or shoveling some sand on it.
8. Don’t Worry About Smithing in the Light
This is something I’ve hard before from other people, but there’s this idea that you can better judge the glow of a metal and its heat if your smithing in a dark place where there’s less light. While this is true, don’t let this idea deter you from doing some blacksmithing in your backyard or somewhere else where there’s plenty of light as well.
If you need to, you can always cover your fire or your metal with your hand or body to cast a shadow over whatever you need to see better. However, even in direct sunlight you should still be able to tell roughly how hot a metal is by its color.
9. Think about what you’re doing
It sounds like common sense, but before you strike a piece of metal, make sure you’re aware of what you’re doing. As you continue to work on a project, its easy to get tired and make a mistake. One poor strike can ruin a delicate project.
People know about the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s sort of the same thing with blacksmithing. It’s much better to take a moment and carefully hammer away rather than trying to rush things, making a mistake, and spending half an hour trying to fix a mistake which might not be fixable in the first place anymore!
10. Know When to Get Expert Advice
Another common mistake I’ve seen beginner blacksmiths struggle with is not because of anything specific, but because they often don’t go and seek the advice of experts when they should. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to work for an expert blacksmith or attend expensive classes, but I’d say it’s a necessity to learn from people who know more than you!
What does this mean for a beginner who doesn’t want to have to spend a lot of money? Well, it means forums, YouTube videos, maybe even some ebooks and other resources that can help you out. In the future, we’ll be reviewing and featuring some of the top places you can go to learn more about smithing, but until then, don’t feel you need to keep banging your head on the wall if you’re struggling with something.
11. Have fun
Blacksmithing should be fun. What it shouldn’t feel like, however, is work (unless you’re getting paid for it, then its totally different!). The best way to become really good at something is to enjoy the process. People who devote thousands of hours honing their craft would never get as far as they did if there wasn’t something about what they did that stirred something in them.
It’s the same thing with whatever you’re doing, especially your hobbies. Have fun while you smithing, and if it ever feels like your frustrated and not enjoying the experience, stop and take a break!
12. BONUS – Not Realizing You Can Make Money as a Beginner Smith
Many beginner blacksmiths would be surprised to hear me say that they can make good money from their hobby much sooner than they ever would have imagined. Now, I’m not saying that if you’ve never picked up a hammer in your life that you’ll be able to start making money in a week, but if you’re a hobby-level blacksmith for a few months, you can teach yourself to make things that people would willingly pay for!
Your skill as a smith isn’t the biggest factor in determining whether you’ll make money. The truth of the matter is that knowing how to market yourself is the most important thing! A lot of people think that starting a shop and become a traditional blacksmith working a 9-5 job is the only way to make a serious income out of smithing. However, the internet and various online marketplaces have completely changed the game, and even people such as yourself can start making $500 per month, $1,000 per month, or even $5,000 per month as a home smith on the side if you know what you’re doing.
Stay tuned for an upcoming article that will cover exactly how you can earn a side living as a blacksmith at home! I’ll promise you its easier than you would have first thought.
Until then, however, here’s an article on how even beginner blacksmiths (such as yourself) can make a good living in 2020.